"An American in Paris"
Tara M. Flanagan (lock) is a retired Women’s Eagle who played in the 1991 and 1994 IRB Women's Rugby World Cup for the U.S.A., and a proud member of the Eagles’ inaugural Women's World Cup Championship team in 1991.
Retired after the 1994 Women's Rugby World Cup to start her legal career, she became a lawyer, is now a state court Judge, and will be sharing insights and perspectives from week two of the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup in Paris.
August 13, 2014: A rugby fan's day for the ages!
First, at Marcoussis, after struggling in the first half, the U.S. made an inspired comeback late in the second half versus Australia, and held on to win, 23-20.
I DON'T know what the players said to each other down there on the FIELD, but as the minutes ticked by in the second half, closer and closer to final time, you could see the Eagles morphing into what we know they can be.
Into the second half, the stadium increasingly erupted with loud, proud, methodical chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A!!!..." as the U.S. fans did everything they could to lift the Eagles up.
Did it work? Yes!
As the game wore on, the Eagles started taking the ball at pace and hitting the gain line hard - they recycled the ball well, kept moving forward, and finally had Australia on their heels.
It was amazing!
So while I can only imagine what the Eagles said to each other on the pitch to turn things around, I DO know what was said in the STANDS-
First, out-loud remarks such as "what's wrong with the referee?!?"
Though it seems not sporting to complain about officiating, we saw some calls in the game, especially the first half, that left three 1991 Eagles (Tam Breckenridge, Jen Levi and myself) and our new Welshman friend Ken scratching our heads. Literally things we haven't seen before. And the referee appeared out of position frequently.
Perhaps this is where the IRB's well-intentioned and symbolic plan of having ONLY women referees at the WRWC shows its flaws. Listen, I get gender equity. I love the idea: women hold up half the sky (or half the rugby field as it were) etc, etc... but referees should not be 'fast-tracked' to ref matches they might not have qualified for otherwise. I have heard here that some refs at the WRWC tournament were not necessarily qualified "A level" some six or eight months ago, but given 'special' training to enable them to ref at the WRWC. (Disclaimer: I haven't confirmed that with the IRB.)
I spoke to some referees who were warming up on the practice field before an earlier match - one, a French woman, had been refereeing just three years. She had played for 14 years, and been a regional select side player, she told me. When I asked her was it a surprise that within three years of her officiating career she was working at a World Cup, the pinnacle of the game, she gave me that "c'est la vie" raised-eyebrow look that the French can give so well.
Still ingrained in me is the rugby culture of utmost respect towards and "don't argue" with the referee. I wished her a good match and left her to her warm ups.
During the match, hilarious theories were discussed in the stands amongst learned rugby fans about the "special" training some WRWC referees may have received: Was it like online traffic school that one can do in America if she gets a traffic ticket? Clicking through topics with the mouse, while in one's pajamas and slippers? Would today's officials log on at half-time for a refresher course? These questions went unanswered.
Still, I'll say it:
These are the world's best rugby players and they deserve the world's best officials.
So back to the USA match - Besides an inspired comeback with some smash mouth rugby, the rugby gods smiled upon the Eagles when Australia missed a penalty kick that would have tied it up 23-23 with time running out - a kick that I'm sure the kicker makes 99.9% of the time, in her sleep. Too bad for her, great for the U.S.!
When the whistle blew, no time to bask in the Eagles’ victory - we were SPRINTING for the exit gate, hoping against hope to reach Stade Jean Bouin in Paris for the semi-final of the France-Canada match. (Note to tournament organizers - please don't spread matches so far apart in the future!)
It took us about 90 minutes to get TO the U.S. match at Marcoussis from central Paris - a journey by Metro, RER Train, and shuttle bus to the FFR rugby grounds.
Q: How, with the U.S. match ending at ~ 8:00 would we reach Stade Jean Bouin in Paris, where France-Canada kicked off at 8:45 pm?
A: We did what any self-respecting rugby players would do - hopped into the car of a complete and total stranger, who drove at speeds of - well, I shouldn't say - to get to the train station, and had our own "Amazing Race" experience!!
We had made friends with a fine Welsh gentleman, Ken Langley, while watching the Eagles’ match. Ken is women's rugby fan who has been following the WRWC and driving over from Wales to take it in. As the USA-Australia match was underway: we struck a deal: Ken had a CAR and European navigational skills. I had an extra semi-finals ticket, and Ken had been unable to buy one (sold out!).
Car ride/navigation for a ticket? Ken was IN!
So when the US match ended, off we sprinted, with Ken leading the way.
Did we make it to Stade Jean Bouin, the very end of the no.10 Paris Metro line for the second half of France- Canada? YES we did.
And what a second half it was!!!
By now you must know that Canada beat France 18-16 to reach their first-ever World Cup final. Good for our North American neighbors.
But something else was on display last night besides world-class rugby: as I watched and listened to the crowd of 20,000 in that glorious rugby stadium, under the bright lights with television cameras sending the game across the country and the world, I think I caught a glimpse of the future of women's rugby... And it's BRIGHT.
More on that later...